Actions

Work Header

A New Frontier

Chapter Text

August 1778

Prior to traveling back through the stones, one of the only remaining comforts was that I had done it before. I knew what it felt like. I had been desensitized.

I also couldn’t have been more wrong.

Perhaps it was because I was not alone this time. I had not calculated for the weight of Graham on top of me as I felt the thud of the hard Earth on my back. The wind had been knocked out of me and I gasped as Graham rolled off onto the ground, Klara thankfully having remained unscathed in his arms.

Graham was certainly not comfortable either. Moments after he rolled off of me, Klara was foist onto my chest and I heard retching a few feet away.

“What-” he tried to speak, but was interrupted by another spout of vomiting. “The fuck!” Graham finished. “Why didn’t you warn me?!”

“There is no way to adequately prepare oneself for the horror that is going through the stones,” I said, analyzing Klara. Her face was twisted in confusion, as if she had no idea whether she should laugh or cry.

“You’re alright, angelface,” I said. Seeing my calm expression, her lip stopped trembling.

“‘Horror’ is an understatement,” Graham said, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand. He reached for the satchel to retrieve his water, taking a small sip to wash out his mouth.

I eventually stood up to survey the surrounding area. Sure enough, a dirt road painted the landscape where the asphalt one had been just minutes prior.

“Well, we made it,” I said, helping Graham up.

“It doesn’t look very different,” Graham said.

“That’s what I said when I arrived in 1977.”

I handed Klara to Graham in exchange for his satchel. I felt somewhat like a pack-mule, but it was preferable to carrying a child in my arms for miles.

“Do you think we’ll have to walk all the way to Inverness?” Graham asked.

I nodded. There was no “Ty” to save us from the walk ahead.

********

“Remind me why I agreed to this?” Graham said after about an hour of walking. The August heat was beating down on us heavily and sweat dripped from his brow. Klara was clearly in discomfort too, whining and whimpering from the heat and hunger.

“Because you love me more than you love air conditioning.”

“Shouldn’t we be in Inverness by now? The cab driver said it was an hour long walk.”

“We’re nearly there. You can see it from here.”

Graham furrowed his brow and looked around. Eventually, he managed to spot the stone buildings poking up a few miles in the distance.

 

“I knew it would look different. I just was expecting it to be so-”

“Small?’

Graham nodded, hoisting up Klara farther up his hip. She cried in response, clearly frustrated by her current discomfort.

“Should we use some of the formula?” I asked.

Graham shook his head. “We can’t waste it. She’ll be okay, we’ll get there soon enough.

As we continued walking, I could hear the steady thump of hoofbeats coming from behind us. From the sound of it, there must have been three or four horses. Graham heard them too, turning around to look.

The red dressing of the soldiers was a sight for sore eyes, but I felt my stomach drop.

“Will they recognize you?” Graham asked.

“I hardly think so, but I don’t doubt they’ll ask us questions. We could look suspicious in their eyes. You remember your backstory, right?”

“And you remember how terrible I am at acting, right?”

“It wouldn’t be acting, per say. Just let me do most of the talking and don’t stop walking until they catch up to us.”

The soldiers rode up beside us about half-a-minute later. “Good afternoon, gentlemen.”

“Good afternoon,” I replied, removing my hat. Graham did the same.

“An Englishman? Whatever are you doing walking the roads of the Highlands?”

“I was here to visit an acquaintance, but I came across this gentleman and his child being robbed of their horse and belongings. I helped to fend them off, but we were poorly outnumbered. The bastards took off with the rest of the belongings and our horses. We were hoping to take the stagecoach from Inverness to London.”

The lieutenant nodded. “We were called up here to keep an eye out for criminals such as the ones you speak of. There have been several reports in the past few weeks of similar incidents.”

“Well, we thank you for your service,” Graham said, nodding to him.

The lieutenant took kindly to Graham’s gratitude. “I only wish we could have caught the bastards before they attacked you. What kind of man would rob an innocent child? How is she fairing?”

“Not well,” Graham said. Klara punctuated his statement with a whine. “She hasn’t had a proper meal in a while.” He was only half-lying, although his tone made it sound as though Klara hadn’t eaten in days, not hours.

“Please, allow us to accompany you the rest of the way to Inverness.” The lieutenant dismounted his horse and walked alongside us.

“We are most grateful for your protection, Lieutenant-”

“Cunningham. I apologize for my lack of manners. And you are?”

“William Grey. And this is Graham Nowak and his daughter, Klara.”

“Might I ask of the child’s mother? It’s dangerous to separate mother and child at such a young age,” the Lieutenant noted.

“I’m afraid it was not by choice. My wife fell ill and she...she’s no longer with us. God rest her soul.”

I was beginning to think that Graham was merely being humble in regards to his acting skills, because the lieutenant seemed touched. “God rest her soul indeed. My condolences to you and your daughter, Mr. Nowak. You must join us at the tavern, we will ensure Miss Nowak is provided with proper sustenance.”

“Thank you, Lieutenant Cunningham.”

The lieutenant nodded to Graham and we continued down the road. As we approached Inverness, the familiar smell of sewage filled my nostrils. I had been accustomed to it at one time, but now I had to consciously prevent myself from wrinkling my nose. I could tell Graham was thinking the same thought.

The odor subsided as Lieutenant Cunningham and his soldiers led us into a tavern. The smell of lunch being prepared made my mouth water. I had been too nervous to eat this morning and I felt the familiar pang of hunger clawing at my insides.

“Good afternoon, gentlemen,” said the barkeep. “Sit on over there and I’ll bring ye somethin’ from the kitchen. The cook is making lamb and boiled potatoes.”

While the soldiers made themselves comfortable, I followed Graham to the bar.

“Excuse me, sir,” Graham said.

“What can I do you lads for?” The barkeep asked, looking over his shoulder.

“Well, you see, my daughter is in need of something to eat. Is there anything the cook can do for her?”

The barkeep took a look at Klara, furrowing his brow. “Aye, we have some goat’s milk in the back. I can ask the cook to mash it in with some of the potatoes so they’re not too thick for the wee lassie. My wife made it for my son when he was wee.”

“Thank you, sir. That is very kind of you.”

“Och, dinna mention it. I wouldna let a bairn starve.”

We joined the soldiers at the table. Lieutenant Cunningham looked up from his ale and smiled. He was a young fellow, probably about the same age as William.

“So, gentlemen, is there anything you can tell me about these thieves you encountered? Anything that may help me identify the culprit?”

I felt Graham stiffen beside me. It would probably be best if I took the lead. “Well, I’m afraid the hour was late, so their features were unclear. Their accents were Scotch-”

“They always are,” Lieutenant Cunningham said, rolling his eyes. “Anyways, if they stole your horses I reckon they have probably made good distance by now.”

“Indeed, my apologies for a lack of information about them. What with the light and being armed with nothing but daggers-”

“Those bastards! Have they no shame attacking men who are practically unarmed?”

I shrugged. “Well, one could say neither of us was wise in traveling the roads without a proper weapon.”

“True, and it isn’t wise to continue without one either. You mentioned you planned to take a stagecoach all the way to London?”

“As a last resort, I’m afraid so,” I said, taking a sip of the ale in front of me. “But I can only be grateful that I have a new traveling companion to keep me company.”

“A silver lining indeed,” Lieutenant Cunningham said.

One of the other soldiers, who had generally been taking amongst themselves, leaned over and whispered to Lieutenant Cunningham. A small smile played on his face and he nodded, glancing back at Graham and I.

“A stagecoach is no suitable place for a child, don’t you think? She would have to go hours without proper tending.”

I could tell Lieutenant Cunningham was leading to something. “Well, it is the best we can do at the moment, I’m afraid.”

“Wrong, Mr. Grey. A couple of my cadets are heading back to London, from which they will be transported to the colonies.” The lieutenant took a breath, seeming envious of his underlings, “I have been reminded there is room in the carriage. It is yours, if you so choose.”

I was surprised by the offer, especially having known Lieutenant Cunningham for no more than an hour. “We truly appreciate the offer, Lieutenant. Are you sure it would be no imposition on your men?”

Lieutenant Cunningham waved a hand in dismissal. “I cannot allow fine men of English blood such as yourselves continue to suffer, especially not if I can remedy it with very little inconvenience for myself or my men. Besides, it is the least I can do having failed to capture those bandits.”

“Thank you for your generosity,” Graham spoke up. “It will not be forgotten.”

“Indeed,” I added, “We are indebted to you. Might I ask which regiment you serve?”

“The 42nd,” Lieutenant Cunningham stated.

“I will put in a good word for you once we reach London,” I said.

Lieutenant Cunningham raised his brow, “Have you connexions, Mr. Grey?”

“A few, and I will be sure to tell them of your nobility and dedication to the protection of those you serve. Perhaps they could be convinced that your talents would be better suited somewhere other than the Highlands?”

Lieutenant Cunningham’s face lit up, but I could tell he was trying to hide it. “I would be most grateful for your recommendation, Mr. Grey. The coach for the men leaves at dawn tomorrow.”

*********

“Are we sure we want to do this?” Graham’s nerves had yet to settle from the encounter with the Lieutenant. He paced back and forth across the room, clutching Klara to him.

“Sit down my dear. You’ve nearly tripped over the cot twice now.”

Graham didn’t hear me and continued to pace, once again catching his foot on the cot the maid had brought into our room. “At least on a stagecoach, we won’t be expected to speak to anyone.”

“It will take longer and be more costly. Plus, what Lieutenant Cunningham said about it being an unfit place for children was not inaccurate. Klara would be miserable.”

He looked down at the sleeping bundle in his arms. Klara, apparently a fan of goat milk and potato, had fallen into a food-induced slumber.

“I was pathetic today, John. I hardly said a word all through lunch. And I was hardly better with the shopkeepers this afternoon.”

“You did fantastically, my love. You were polite and gracious. You merely came off as shy, not rude or awkward.”

Graham sighed, laying Klara carefully onto the cot and sitting beside her. “That’s easy for you to say. I’ve never seen you so- so- charming? But that doesn’t even quite describe it. You have a certain heir about you here.”

I raised a brow. “It is because I understand the game that is socialization here. In your time, I felt like a blubbering idiot.”

“That’s how I feel now.” Graham looked up at me from the floor. I could see him relax a bit, but his forehead was still wrinkled in concern.

I slid myself off of the bed, kneeling in front of the cot. “You have my empathy, Graham. Just trust that I won’t let anything bad happen to you or Klara.”

“Well, I know that,” Graham said, picking at the loose threads on the quilt. “I’m more concerned that I’ll screw something up and hurt you.”

I put a hand over his. He stopped fidgeting and squeezed my fingers. “Look at me. You are far more prepared than you think you are, okay? If I had even a shred of doubt about your abilities to be safe here, we would still be in 1978.”

I could tell Graham was trying to hold back tears. He was generally fairly open with his emotions, but something was still holding him back. “It’s okay to be overwhelmed, Graham.”

“I’ve been here for less than 24 hours, I’m not going to let myself fall apart.”

“And why is that?”

“Because you didn’t. Even when you first came through the stones, you were so put together.”

I laughed and stroked his hair. He gave me a confused look. “What?”

“Do you genuinely think I was ‘put together’ when I first got to your time?”

Graham shrugged. “You never seemed to be otherwise.”

I smiled. “That’s because I knew that from your perspective, I had no reason to be. I hid all of my fear and confusion from you. I cried the first couple of nights too. Bree’s silk blouse still has tear stains on it.”

Graham sniffled and looked up at me, “Really? I never would have been able to tell.”

I nodded. “Also, she spent several hours training me how to use the phone and how to ask you on a date properly. She even took me to dinner and a movie the night before so I could know what to expect. It wasn’t until I told you the truth that you became my 20th century tour guide.”

Graham laughed. “I guess Bree did most of the heavy-lifting there. Thank you for telling me that, I feel less pathetic now.”

“You are many things, my love, but ‘pathetic’ is not one of them.” I kissed his forehead. “Now, we have a long day tomorrow. Best get some rest.”

*********

The soldiers we were accompanying, Officers Charles and Leslie, were surprisingly chatty. I had anticipated a quiet ride, especially after the impression they had given the day before. But now, they had a myriad of questions. Graham tried to be more responsive, but I could tell he was getting flustered.

“What is your business in London?” Leslie asked. “We won’t be staying there for more than a fortnight ourselves.”

“Well,” I said, pondering for a moment, “I am going to visit my family before setting sail to the colonies myself.”

“What about you, Mr. Nowak? Got any big plans in London?”

Graham shook his head. “No-no. I’m afraid I will not stay there for long. My family is from the colony of Pennsylvania. After my wife passed, I decided it would be best to raise Klara close to them.”

Charles nodded solemnly. “It is a real shame about your wife.”

Graham gave him a brief smile, prompting Leslie to continue with the informal interrogation.

“So, Mr. Grey, you mentioned yesterday that you have connexions in London? Any we may have heard of?”

I had decided it would be best to avoid giving them too many details about my ties to London, lest they realize my nobility and ask about my true identity. “I was in the military for a significant portion of my life. I’ve remained in contact with a few of my former colleagues.”

“What was your rank?” Charles asked.

“I made my way up the ranks over time. I was a Major in my final years, although I had a short tenure.”

“Which regiment?” Leslie raised a brow. “My father was in the 46th back in his army days.”

Shit. I could see the wheels turning in Leslie’s head and the half-hidden smirk on Charles’ face confirmed my worst fears. I could feel the momentary panic flash on my face, but I hadn’t managed to smother it before Charles took notice of my expression.

He bent down and reached under his seat retrieving a folded parchment from his bag. He tossed it onto my lap and I opened it. The words “Urgent: Missing Person” were printed boldly above my portrait.

“The Duke chose wisely in hiring the artist for your portrait. Your likeness has been captured perfectly.” Leslie grinned, a manic look flashing in his eyes.

“How long have you known?” I said, trying to sound calm.

“These broadsheets have been posted nearly a year. I’m sure half of England has your face memorized by now, my Lord,” Leslie said.

“And Lieutenant Cunningham?” Graham asked. I glanced in his direction. His face had paled slightly, and I could tell he was panicking. I wanted nothing more than to grab his hand and squeeze, but I instead placed my hand on my own knee. It was all I could do to fight my instinct to comfort him.

“Oh, the poor bloke hasn’t the mind to remember faces. He’s unaware of your identity.”

Well, at least I hadn’t been completely fooled. These lads had been wise to keep their mouths shut yesterday. I only felt bad for the poor lieutenant, having been unknowingly roped into a dishonorable scheme.

“Well, you’ve got us here now. What is your plan?” I asked,

“Simple,” Leslie said, crossing his arms, “We return you to the Duke and get the reward.”

“And what makes you think I will corroborate whatever lie you have concocted to convince him you deserve such a thing?”

Charles once again reached into his bag, extracting a pistol. “I think this will do for now.”

Graham’s breath hitched next to me.

“And don’t even think about yelling. The driver is getting a cut.”

“Have you no honor?” I said, trying to keep my voice steady. I looked Charles in the eyes, but I could still see the glint of the gunmetal in his lap. “Drawing such a weapon on men who are insufficiently armed? With a child, nonetheless?”

“And what do you plan to do about it?”

*********

The feeling of the bark against my back and the robes against my wrists was all too familiar. I could hear Graham squirming behind me, his clenched fists digging into my lower back. Klara lay on the ground comfortably to my left, belly full and sleeping soundly.

“It’s not worth it, Graham,” I said, exasperated, “Despite being idiots, these boys do know a thing or two about tying knots. Perhaps they would have been better suited for the navy.”

“Well, I’m sorry I’m not familiar with the proper etiquette for being kidnapped, John.”
Nevertheless, the squirming behind me ceased. “What are we supposed to do then?”

“Well, luckily our kidnappers are hubris-filled imbeciles. Had they any sense, they would have kept their mouths shut about knowing who I was until we got to London. Fortunately for us, they were too proud of the minor accomplishment of getting us in a carriage with them to think about the consequences of telling us we were hostages with a month left in our journey.”

“How does that help us? Sure, we can talk about escaping all we’d like, but as long as we’re tied to a tree it won’t do us any good.”

“True, it won’t happen tonight. In fact, it may be wise of us to only attempt escape if they threaten us. Plus, they are making every mistake they could possibly make. They clearly didn’t think this through and they’re too proud to realize it.”

Graham huffed. “Well, at least they were nice enough to leave Klara here.”

I nodded, although he couldn’t see me. “That was their first mistake. She’s the one thing we wouldn’t leave behind, and they have left her within our reach. They also tied us to the same tree, making it easy for us to plot an emergency plan.”

“What if they go through our luggage?”

That was a legitimate concern. We had our coin and the remaining gemstones tucked away in the hidden pockets Bree had sewn into our ensembles, but the camera and other items from the future were currently strapped to the boot of the carriage.

“Well, they haven’t seemed to think to do it yet. We will just need to find a way to sneak the smaller items into our pockets. Hopefully, they don’t figure out the combination of the compartment to find the camera.”

I could feel Graham shrug beside me. “Doesn’t look like they’re putting too much effort into it,” he said. He was right- the cadets and the driver were already sleeping soundly by the fire a couple dozen yards away.

“Graham,” I whispered.

“Yeah, John?”

“I’m sorry I got us into this mess.”

I heard him sigh. “This isn’t your fault, John.”

“It is, though. I swore I would protect you and Klara, and now look where we are.”

“We’re uninjured, and that’s all that matters right now. We’ll be okay.”

Graham was right. There was no risk of bodily harm, at least not yet. That didn’t prevent me from feeling responsibility. Graham and Klara were under my protection, and I would stop at nothing to keep it that way.

********

We spent the next few weeks planning and preparing for an contingency plan for an emergency escape. Despite it being the original obvious choice, we decided against bribing the driver. We couldn’t risk him alerting his co-conspirators to our plot.

The plan took final form as we got closer and closer to London. Our captors were fairly lenient given the circumstances, allowing us to exit the carriage unattended every so often to change Klara or relieve ourselves. We had managed to collect most of our smaller valuables from the baggage, which those idiots hadn’t even touched since we left Inverness.

Usually, the men would go straight to bed after tying us up. One night, about three weeks into our journey, Leslie and Charles stayed up later than usual. They made no effort to be quiet about their conversation, probably assuming we couldn’t hear them from such a distance.

“I know we need to keep John Grey around, but the other two are just a waste of supplies,” I heard Charles say. “Why can’t we just set them free?”

Leslie sighed. “Because he could come back and free John, or even go warn the Duke! You’re quite dim-witted, did you know that?”

Charles huffed. “Well, we could at least leave the baby behind. She’s annoying.”

“I won’t leave her to starve, nor will I release her father,” Leslie said. I felt Graham relax a bit, knowing that Klara would be safe.

But Leslie continued speaking. “But you’re right. We don’t have enough provisions to make it to London. And we can’t risk stopping anywhere. Spare the child, but kill her father when we reach the river. We can dump his body there and be rid of him.”

My stomach sunk and I felt Graham tense behind me. “Tomorrow night?”

I couldn’t see him, but I knew Graham was nodding.

*********

The next day, I managed to shove our daggers, which we’d been keeping in the backpacks, into the sides of my boots. I had needed to remove them from the sheaths so they’d fit, causing them to cut slightly into my calves as I slid them down. The cuts weren’t too deep, at least I didn’t think so, but I could still feel the blood dripping down my ankles when I sat back down inside the carriage.

As per the routine, the cadets tied us up a few dozen yards from the camp and laid Klara to sleep beside us. I had made sure to flex my wrists as much as I could whilst they tied me, allowing for a small amount of give when I relaxed them. The plan hinged on my ability to extract myself from the ropes whilst they slept.

“Do you think you can get them loose?” Graham whispered. With the men asleep, I had begun to wriggle my wrists.

“Scoot forward a bit,” I whispered back, “I need more space to move my hands and your back is in the way.”

Graham slid his bottom along the ground, wincing at the discomfort. I managed to get the ropes half-way off of my palms and I leaned forwards, pulling my hands as hard as I could.

I gasped as my hands suddenly broke free from the bindings, scraping against the rough bark painfully as I fell forwards. The daggers in my boots dug further into my calf and I bit my lip, trying not to make a sound.

I reached into the top of the first boot, biting my forearm to keep from yelling in pain as the blade slid through the already-wounded flesh. The second dagger was slightly less painful to extract, perhaps due to the adrenaline that was pumping through me.

After undoing the bindings at my feet, I cut Graham free.

“Is that blood?” he whispered as I handed him his dagger.

“Just a small cut,” I lied. My stockings were soaked through now, causing a squishing feeling beneath my feet as I stood. I tried not to wince. The last thing I needed was for Graham to be distracted by having to worry about me.

While Graham carefully scooped up Klara, I tiptoed to the carriage. The men were only a few feet from it, so I had to be especially careful not to make a noise. I could hear my heartbeat in my ears as I loosened the fastenings of the luggage, pulling out the three bags and strapping them to myself.

I was about to turn to leave when I heard a noise behind me and froze. My hand tightened on the handle of my dagger, but the familiar click and feeling of cold metal on the back of my head caused my grip to loosen.

I hadn’t heard the driver get up, but I could feel his breath on my neck as he whispered. My mind was racing with choices about how to defend myself.

“Drop the dag- erg!”

The pistol dropped to the ground and I turned around. The driver’s eyes were wide and he gasped. Hastily, I covered his mouth to stifle him and he fell to the ground. Graham stood behind him, Klara balanced on his hip and his dagger in-hand.

He dropped it to the ground, hand shaking violently as he looked down in horror at the driver and the pool of blood forming around him.

I gripped the handle of my own blade, stooping down. “Look away, my love,” I whispered.

I slid my blade sharply across the driver’s neck.

“Did I kill him?” Graham whispered shakily.

“One of us did, but now there is no way of telling who,” I replied. I handed him his backpack and picked up the discarded dagger. “Don’t let yourself think, just breath.”

We quickly maneuvered our way to where the horses were tied up, the cadets’ riding gear discarded at the base of the tree they were tethered to. I had to help Graham with the fastenings, as his hands were shaking and he was unwilling to let go of Klara. Silent tears fell down his cheeks and I wiped one away. I touched my forehead to his. “Breath.”

I managed to extract Klara from his arms, being more skilled at steering one-handed. He nearly cried out as I did so, but brought his own hand up to his mouth to stop himself. The gesture left a smear of the driver’s blood on his face and he gagged.

“Hold it in,” I whispered, mounting the horse.

Graham didn’t respond, continuing to gag as he took the saddle.

“Ready?”

Graham gripped the reigns.

“Hyah!” I kicked the horses side and we took off, galloping past the camp and onto the road. I could hear the shouts of Leslie and Charles, awakened by the hoofbeats, growing quieter as we sped down the dirt road. There were a few gunshots, but we were well out of range.

Graham leaned over, managing to vomit off to the side of the horse. Now a safe distance from the camp, the adrenaline began to wear off. He retched again and my grip on Klara tightened, my vision obscured by the forming tears.

*********

We rode in silence through the night, ensuring a good distance between us and the cadets. Eventually, we came across a river where we could water the horses. My legs ached as I dismounted and my arm had grown fatigued from clutching Klara so tightly.

I decided to hazard a glance at Graham. The driver’s blood still stained his face, only now there were streaks of tears running through brown smudge.

I laid Klara on the grass by the riverbank and sat beside her, peeling off my blood-filled boots. The wounds had been throbbing painfully, but I had managed to ignore them until now. I heard Graham gasp behind me.

“John, your legs,” he choked. The strain in his voice caused a lump to form in my throat. “Let me see-”

“You’ve seen enough tonight,” I said, pulling my legs into myself. “I’ve already failed you enough, I don’t need to force you to nurse me on top of that.”

I turned my attention to Klara, who was fast asleep already. We had managed to stop a few times to change and feed her some of the formula, but she still cried from fatigue for most of the ride.

Graham stood over me. “Look at me, John.”

I couldn’t. The blood on his face was too unbearable to look at. Looking in his eyes would be even worse.

“Fucking say something!” Graham yelled. He didn’t sound angry, but the pain in his voice dug into my soul.

“I have failed you,” I said quietly. “I told you that your blade would remain clean, and now-”

“I swear to God, if you blame yourself for this-”

“How could I not?!” I finally looked up at him.

Graham sat beside me and dug through his bag, pulling out the bar of soap Bree had made us bring. “What, do you want me to be angry with you?”

“Yes- ow!” I winced as he pulled off my stockings, inspecting the wounds.

“Sorry-” he said, “just hold still. And no, I’m not going to be mad at you. It’s not your fault that the driver is-,” he paused, “-was… a light sleeper.”

I could feel my lip quiver. He was right, it wasn’t my fault. This mess was simply caused by bad luck. “I’m still sorry,” I choked.

He leaned forward to look at my face. “I know that, John. All I need is for you to be here for me, okay? This self-pity bullshit just makes me feel worse about... what I did.” He struggled to say the last few words, his breath hitching.

The soap fell out of Graham’s grip into the grass and his hands began to shake again. I pulled his head into my lap, stroking his hair. He wasn’t crying, but I could feel him shake as he gasped for air. I ran my hand up and down his back, waiting for the spout of panic to end.

“You saved my life, Graham,” I whispered when the shaking stopped. I retrieved the soap from the grass, lathering some into my hands before rubbing it on his mouth. He sat up, stooping over the riverbank to rinse away the dried blood.

I joined him, rinsing the soap from my legs. It stung, but the wounds looked far less severe once they were cleaned. I would maybe need a few stitches once we reached London, but I would be okay with simple bandages for now.

The morning sun began to beat down and I could feel the sweat drip down my brow. Graham eyed me as I peeled off the sweat-stained layers, which hadn’t been removed in several days. I carefully waded into the river, rubbing the soap on not only my dirty linens, but also over my hair and body.

Graham looked between me and Klara, who was still sleeping. “She’ll be fine,” I said. He nodded, following my lead and stripping off his clothes and washing them before laying them down to dry on a rock beside mine.

I came up behind him, kissing the back of his shoulder. My lips hadn’t touched his skin once since we came through the stones and I could hear his breath hitch. “Is this okay?” I asked.

“Yes,” he whispered. “ I reached up to his head, massaging his scalp with my soapy hands and working my way down his body.

“Just let yourself relax, love.” I pulled him further into the water until we were both waist-deep, rinsing the bubbles from his skin. They floated down the current of the river, leaving a trail of white suds.

I tilted my head up, brushing my lips over his. Graham bent down and scooped his arms beneath my thighs, joining our lips gently. I wrapped my arms around his neck, pulling him deeper into the kiss.

I hadn’t realized just how starved I had been of his touch until now. I could feel his cock pressing into me as we explored each other’s mouths. I didn’t even have to ask before it was inside me. It hurt at first, but I relaxed quickly into his length. The water had left me chilled, but now the heat inside of me caused me to break into a sweat.

With the river bearing most of my weight, it was easy for Graham to keep me elevated as I rolled my hips back and forth. It had been so long since we had made love that it only took a couple of minutes for us to become undone. Graham cried out in pleasure and I could feel him throb deep inside of me.

He didn’t let go once we stopped, instead pushing his face into the crook of my neck. We remained joined together, even after his erection had subsided. He needed to be close to me.

After a quarter of an hour, I stroked his head and pulled away from the embrace. He was shivering from the cold of the river and, as much as I empathize with him, he needed to let the warm air rid him of the chill. “Let’s not catch cold, my dear.”

He nodded into my shoulder, setting me down onto the rocky bottom of the river. He turned to make his way back to the bank, but I caught his arm.

“I love you, always,” I looked into his eyes as I spoke, but he looked down at the water.

“Even now?”

I squeezed his arm. “Until the day I die, and I especially won’t stop just because you defended my life. You’re not getting rid of me without a hitman, Nowak.”

To my surprise, he cracked a small smile. “Hey, that’s my line.”